There used to be a time the I chose my fragrance to make a statement. Regardless of notes (but ultimately the bolder the better) my goal was to be the kind of person who smelled good from five feet away. My most reached for bottles were vibrant florals, smoky leather-based blends, fresh green scents, and sugary sweet fragrances like Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Baccarat Rouge 540. I liked to imagine that I walked down the street with a cloud of perfume trailing in my wake, and like most people, I assumed that punchy, complex blends would help me to achieve this.
However, over the years and as my scent-triggered migraines worsened, I’ve found myself drawn to softer, subtler scents, and oddly enough these warm, barely-there, and sometimes outright invisible fragrances, were often the ones that drew in the most compliments. There was one particular fragrance that ended up totally converting me. The first time I wore it I received no less than five compliments from passersby on a quick visit to the supermarket. I then wore it to dinner with my boyfriend who (for the first time in four years of dating) actually noticed and commented on my fragrance without prompting. Two weeks later I received a direct message from an Instagram follower who had passed me on the street and was desperate to know what I was wearing.
The scent in question, Escentric Molecules Molecule 01 is cosy, woody, clean, and a little bit sweet. Supposedly undetectable to the wearer but incredibly appealing to those around, it contains only one ingredient, a unique molecule known as Iso E Super.
The scent in question, Escentric Molecules Molecule 01 is cosy, woody, clean, and a little bit sweet. Supposedly undetectable to the wearer but incredibly appealing to those around, it contains only one ingredient, a unique molecule known as Iso E Super. "Iso E Super is a single aroma molecule perfumers use to create a fragrance in conjunction with other chemicals and naturals,” says master perfumer and Escentric Molecules founder Geza Schön. "Its classification is woody. If it were to be compared to an existing natural product people know it would have to be cedarwood. Furthermore, it has this unique velvety and smooth allure, and it has got this magic to it unlike all other chemicals around.”
Schön’s process for the creation of Molecule 01 began in the 1980s, a time when loud, powerful scents like Dior’s Poison and Opium by YSL were in their heyday. "There were a lot of fabulous fragrances were around yet some of my friends stated that they would rather not wear a fragrance at all than wear the powerful and strong scents that were around,” says Schön. "I thought it a shame that the present offerings would lead them to neglect that opportunity. But, my experience with Iso E Super revealed a possibility for the wearer to leave an impressive olfactoric mark behind, where you appear, yet you don’t inhale your scent with every breath you take.” A decade later and Molecule 01 became a reality when Schön gave a friend a sample of Ice E Super to wear on its own. "We went out to a bar in our hometown. After only a few minutes a woman passed our table and stopped to say ‘what smells so good here?’—the idea was born.”
Right now, skin scents like Molecule 01, are one of the biggest trends in the fragrance game. Light, soft, warm, and clean, skin scents are a more conceptual perfume category, especially in comparison to the more conventional scent descriptors, like ‘floral’ or ‘green’. Instead, skin scents are less about the individual notes and more about the overall feeling that wearing the fragrance provides. "A skin scent enhances the smell of natural skin, in a radiant yet subtle way,” says perfumer Ruth Mastenbroek. "You the wearer are aware of the scent, and confident that you are exuding a warm and comforting aura, while not smelling overpowering in any way. This is a scent that feels intimate to you, familiar to you, that helps you to feel truly comfortable in your own skin.”
As for just why skin scents are having a moment right now, Mastenbroek puts this down to a desire for personal connection during the pandemic. "People yearned for emotional connections with other people, yet needed to feel at one with their own world. You wouldn’t want to have a loud fragrance that shouted out, but rather a quiet fragrance that whispered and caressed.” Skin scents are very considerate of other people, she adds, and Beckielou Brown, creator of skin scent ALTRA Skin agrees. "I see it as as a reaction to the intense ‘beast mode’ perfumes that rely on heavy-duty notes with immense projection, those fragrances that enter the room before the wearer does, and linger long after they’re gone,” she says. "Skin scents are the antithesis to this, they’re never in your face or overpowering and can be seen as perfume’s answer to paired back beauty and skinimalism trends.”
Skin scents are typically fairly simple blends, with woody or musky notes, which according to Brown, cling easily to the skin, hair, and clothes. "It’s an intimate scent experience that can aim to mimic or enhance the scent of your own skin,” she explains. "They have a warm enveloping feel to them, some evoking a sense of freshly showered skin or clean laundry, others are less squeaky-clean but still comforting and sensual.”
"Powdery, cashmere notes, together with musks, light woods and ambers are some of the beautiful notes found in skin scents,” adds Mastenbroek. "They are carefully blended, often with touches of essential oils, to make the link to nature and bathe your skin in a warm glow. Hints of sweet vanilla can also help to connect to our subconscious emotions and put us in touch with happy memories, aiding that warm glow.”
While I do still love bold scents, I tend to wear them more now as ‘occasion’ fragrances. Instead, my everyday go-tos have become softer, subtler scents which enhance my natural fragrance, smelling warm, musky, and essentially like ‘my skin but better’. Scroll down to discover some of the best skin scents.
Shop Escentric Molecules Molecule 01:
The original skin scent and a cult classic in the world of fragrance, a straight up solution of Iso E Super. "It draws you in, it smells comfortable yet subtle. See it as the little black dress," says Schön. "One thing, one colour, yet it is fabulous. Simple, yet enough to be noticed."
This discovery set allows you to experiment with Escentric Molecules best scents, including 01.
Shop more skin scents:
Warm, sweet, and papery, Byredo's Eyes Closed smells incredible from the bottle but even better after a few hours on the skin.
With aldehydes (which have a clean-smelling scent), sandalwood and musk, this scent is akin to a fresh load of clean laundry and will have everyone asking you what you're wearing.
This sell-out perfume recently went viral and took the TikTok beauty community by storm. You might wonder how a fragrance could achieve such popularity via an app, but it was undoubtedly the story behind the scent that made it so popular. While going through a divorce, founder Chriselle Lim was inspired to create a scent that evoked the familiarity and comfort of human companionship. It's a subtle papery scent, with notes of musk, bergamot, jasmine, and sandalwood.
Many skin scents lean warm and musky, but this is one of the lighter, fresher ones I've tried. With floral notes of lily, iris, and rose, it's clean and cottony, with an overall effect reminiscent of clean laundry.
Although it's built upon a base of Iso E Super, Another 13 is more noticeable than some skin scents. At the top, you'll find lighter notes of pear, apple, and citrus, alongside fresh moss and jasmine.
Love Molecule 01 but want something a little more complex? Escentric Molecules recently extended their product range with the Molecule+ collection, which sees Iso E Super combined with a singular other fragrance note. Choose between patchouli, mandarin, or (my personal favourite) iris.
Designed to be used as a fragrance enhancer, I Don't Know What perfectly captures the 'je ne sais quoi' of Iso E Super, which is used as a heart note in this blend. Notes of bergamot, vetiver, and ambrox also feature.
Combining Iso E Super with notes of skin musk and amber, this sweet and (unsurprisingly) papery scent was created by world-famous perfumer Jerome Epinette. "I wanted to make this fragrance feel personal and very intimate," he says. "I created the scent around Iso E Super, a beautiful note that delivers a gorgeous warm skin feel throughout the composition. To deepen this feeling, I layered musk with fresh jasmine petals and the warmth of crisp amber for texture and depth.”
A soft white musk fragrance created to evoke the most sensual aspects of skin, this subtle scent is simultaneously clean, fresh, and comforting. It's designed both to be worn alone or as a base for other Altra perfumes. "We were the first people to create a skin scent like this that’s 100% natural and vegan." says Brown. "Typically skin scents are based on synthetic musks, whereas ours is a blend of plant-based musks and other botanical base notes that combine to capture the most sensual aspects of your skin." Unlike most perfumes, Brown chose to formulate this as a base-note only scent. "I wanted it to blend seamlessly with your body, the notes awaken when warmed on your skin and come to life with your own chemistry," she says. "Whilst this is a secret blend based on what we call our "ultra-skin accord”, one of the key ingredients is from ambrette, a seed from the abelmoschus moschatus plant (also known as hibiscus mochatus, musk mallow or musk seed)."
The name says it all; designed to smell like you, You is warm and familiar, the kind of scent that blends with your natural fragrance and so smells a little bit different on everyone.
This warm, vanilla-based scent is sweet but spicy, with an amber base that gives it a rich, luxe quality. It melts beautifully onto skin for a really sophisticated, grown up take on vanilla.
Inspired by and named quite literally for skin, this scent is simultaneously sweet and salty, which recreates the natural scent of sun-warmed skin. It's a relatively simple blend, comprising notes of praline, musk, salt, tonka bean, and leather.
With notes of almond, saffron, and amber, and a sweet musky base, this warm, woody scent sits close to the skin, subtly enhancing the wearer's natural fragrance.
A perfume classic. White Musk is at first floral and powdery, but warms on the skin, settling to a subtle and sensual scent.
Although it's at first a little louder than most typical skin scents, this mellows into a really warm and familiar fragrance which melds beautifully with your natural scent. It's salty, spicy, and a little sweet.
This story was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.
Grace Day is a beauty editor and content creator. She has over 10 years of beauty-industry experience, spanning editorial, retail, and e-commerce, which gives her a unique understanding into how people shop for their beauty routines.
While studying for a history degree (specialising in the history of beauty) and working as a beauty adviser in department stores, Grace started writing her own beauty blog in order to share the products she discovered while dealing with acne. After graduating, she moved to Beauty Bay as beauty editor and content manager. Grace is currently a beauty contributor to Who What Wear. She has also written for Hypebae and PopSugar and works as a brand consultant and copywriter.
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